Japan has an extremely rich history of wagashi – traditional sweets and confectioneries that are often enjoyed together with green tea or alone as dessert. These confectioneries often have a more natural sweetness and are perfect for those among us with a little bit of a sweet tooth.
Daifuku remains as one of Japan’s favourite traditional sweets and that definitely is partly due to its great adaptability into modern times. At its core, Daifuku consists of red bean paste covered in a layer of chewy mochi (glutinous rice cake), but Daifuku is really made with any sweet filling these days.
There are ones stuffed with fruits like the strawberry and others with ice cream or whipped cream, which are popular in summer. Even the mochi itself can be flavoured, most commonly with green tea. You can find these in local confectionery stores or even supermarkets.
This is a classic festival and street food made from mochiko (similar to mochi) balls and often served in threes or fours on a skewer. Besides the three-coloured hanami dango seen above, mitarashi dango topped with a sweet soy sauce glaze, as seen below, are also very popular.
Dango has also become somewhat of a cultural icon, being featured regularly in shows and movies as a much loved snack. Those of you who have watched the anime Clannad Afterstory probably already know this and have the song Dango Daikazoku etched in your minds.
Another festival food staple, Taiyaki is a fish shaped cake that is traditionally filled with red bean paste, but now can often also be found with popular flavours such as custard and chocolate! Taiyaki can be found crispy like a waffle, or fluffy like a pancake, and how they are made really boils down to where you go.
In recent times, you can also find Taiyaki being used as a cone for ice cream. While in Akihabara, Tokyo, I also chanced upon magikarp shaped Taiyaki, in a shop called Kurikoan, so do look out for that if you intend to visit!
These traditional Japanese pancakes have become really iconic because of the extremely popular children’s series Doraemon, in which it is the titular Doraemon’s favourite snack. Like most of the other confectionery, it is traditionally filled with red bean paste.
Other traditional flavours like matcha cream and chestnut paste are also popular, but you can also sometimes get custard and chocolate.
These are very regularly served during tea ceremonies to complement the bitter taste of the concentrated green tea. They are usually designed using natural motifs to reflect the season at the time, really showcasing how important an appreciation of the changing seasons is in Japanese culture. They are often made from sweet dough, red bean and green bean paste.
There are even workshops that allow you to make these for yourself! I went for one of these workshops, and it was definitely one of my favourite experiences in Kyoto. For those interested, click here.
Besides all of these, there are many other forms of Japanese traditional confectionery, some of which are even unique to the region! So have fun tasting and eating as you go.